01 December 2016

9 Creative Ways to Give Back to Others This Christmas

Christmas is an exciting time of year, especially when you have children. It’s so much fun to celebrate the holiday through their eyes and experience the magic of Christmas as a child yourself all over again. Having said this, I also think with all our joyful celebrations, we can easily lose sight of the true meaning of the holiday season.


In as much as I love doing things with and for my daughter during Christmas, it’s extremely important to me that she understands the season is about more than Santa, gifts and Christmas movies. I’ve often thought that the holiday season is the perfect opportunity to instill and develop a child’s philanthropic mindset while cultivating an attitude of gratitude. 


With this in mind, I’ve come up with a list of nine things you can do for others to give back during the Christmas season. Finding ways to practice kindness doesn’t have to be a blown out production. Kindness comes in many different shapes, sizes and forms. Here are some ideas to help your children, at any age, understand the true spirit of Christmas so they can apply it in their own lives for a lifetime.


Finding ways to practice kindness doesn’t have to be a blown out production. Kindness comes in many different shapes, sizes and forms. Here are some ideas to help your children, at any age, understand the true spirit of Christmas so they can apply it in their own lives for a lifetime.



Toys for Tots. I’m a huge fan of the Marine Corp’s annual Toys for Tots toy drive. Every year, we take Maddy to the toy store, let her pick out a gift and then have her donate it to Toys for Tots. I always like to explain to her that not every child is as fortunate as her so it’s important that we help to give others a nice Christmas. It also helps her to develop a sense of empathy and a heart to serve others.





Leave a homemade treat with a kind note for your mailman in the mailbox. These men and women provide such a thankless service every day regardless of weather conditions, traffic and more. Let them know you appreciate what they do for you.


Spend time with the elderly, especially those home-bound or in assisted living. Help an elderly neighbor with Christmas decorations, grocery shopping, yard maintenance or simply spend some time with them talking and being a companion. This will mean more to them then you will ever know.


Be a Dollar Store angel. Leave 10 {or any desired amount} of $1 bills in random spots in the dollar store. If you’re feeling extra kind, leave the 0.07 cents for tax. Imagine how happy the single mother shopping for her kids will be or the child who wants a toy but mommy and daddy are hesitant to buy one because of their tight budget. It sounds like so little to us but it makes such a HUGE difference in the lives of others who really need it.





Remember children in the hospital or in hospice care. Make small gift baskets for kids who are in the hospital and deliver them with your children.


Be kind to someone you dislike. Our children are always watching and listening. What do you think they see and hear when they look at you?


Cleanout! Use this time of the year to collect your child’s old books that they no longer read and donate them to a children’s center, shelter or local library. You can also do this with clothing, shoes and other necessities. 


Donate your time to new or exhausted parents. Offer your time to stressed or tired parents for free babysitting. Bring your own kids along as playmates and helpers! Imagine being a new parent and having the chance to get out for a few hours to do a little {peaceful} Christmas shopping, have a quiet coffee break or simply get some much needed errands done. This simple act of kindness means so much to parents who desperately need a break.


Donate the spare change in your car to The Salvation Army bell ringers. We all have ungodly amounts of change laying around, especially in our cars. Put those coins to good use and donate them! Grab a few coins every time you come across a bell ringer and toss them into the bucket. It may seem like very little but all that money adds up quick.



These are just a few ideas to get you started and really, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many things we can do to help spread kindness and joy to others during the holiday season. What ideas do you have to share? I would love to hear them! 

28 November 2016

Best Holiday Wassail

One of my most favorite Christmas traditions is enjoying a warm and delicious mug of Wassail.


I was introduced to Wassail a few years ago by my friend Melissa who brought it as a treat for an office holiday potluck. I immediately fell in love with the hot beverage, got the recipe and have made it every year since. Actually, I like to enjoy this drink during all the cold winter months but especially during the Christmas holiday. I turn on my Christmas music, decorate our home, cook and bake and in the evening, snuggle up on the sofa with nothing but the lights from the tree to keep me company. It's fabulous, and it will make your entire home smell like the holidays.


One of my most favorite Christmas traditions is enjoying a warm and delicious mug of Wassail. This hot beverage is the perfect cure for a cold winter night or is a great companion to a good book or movie. Snuggle up on your sofa with a mug and enjoy!


Here's What You'll Need:
8 cups apple cider
2 cups orange juice
2 cups pineapple juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
12 whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup sugar


Here's How You'll Make It:
You can combine these ingredients in a crock pot, Dutch oven or large stock pot. I prefer to use a Dutch oven because it is the perfect pot for this batch size.


First, combine all your liquids.
Then add the cinnamon sticks, cloves and sugar.
Bring to a bubble, stir and reduce heat to simmer, uncovered.
Keep burner on simmer and enjoy.




This hot beverage is the perfect cure for a cold winter night or is a great companion to a good book or movie. Snuggle up on your sofa with a mug and enjoy! 



23 November 2016

8 Alternatives to Black Friday Shopping Guaranteed to Make Your Soul Happy



Corporate America, the stores, the TV and the radio have been programming you for weeks. It’s coming…


The headaches. The fighting. The crappy attitudes. The long hours stuck in the car fighting traffic to get from store to store. The violence. The financial stress and strain.


Is this how anyone really wants to enjoy the start of the holiday season? 


The final straw came for me on Black Friday a few years ago. As I watched the news that evening, the only thing I found myself thinking was how ridiculous and pathetic we’ve become as a society that we would literally stampede through a Wal-Mart, Target or Best Buy like it’s the running of the bulls in Pamplona all for a good deal. Do you really need a computer, iWhatever or camera so badly that you are willing to kill someone for it? That night on the news, it was reported that an elderly man who worked as a greeter for Wal-Mart was run over and killed by a mob of people trying to get in the store when it opened. And let us not forget about the parents who died in a California Toys R Us that same year because two shoppers decided to shoot it out over toys.


Right then and there I vowed to never be a part of Black Friday again or be forced to feel like less of a person by not being extravagant in my purchases or gift giving. I'm over it. I'm tired of corporate America's ploys and tricks of trying to convince me that the spirit of Christmas is in the price tag. I'm tired of being made to feel that I have to put myself and my family in financial limbo for others. It seems like everyone expects something regardless of an individuals’ circumstances or finances. I can't think of a single thing that I absolutely must have and if I do find something, I'll buy it myself. The only thing I truly want or need for Christmas is to be with my family; to spend time with them and enjoy their company. That’s a gift that is invaluable to me. You can't put a price tag on those kinds of memories.


I know we all celebrate the holidays in our own ways and I by no means take anything away from those who choose to get involved in Black Friday. I’m not judging and I honestly believe to each their own - it’s just not something for me. I think what bothers me the most about Black Friday is how the meaning of the holiday spirit gets totally and utterly lost. It's really about gaining some perspective.


Having said this, I’ve come up with a list of 8 things to do in place of Black Friday shopping when thinking about how you want to spend your Thanksgiving holiday: 


1.        Instead of spending money in a store, make a donation to a charity whether it be online or in person.


2.       Volunteer your time to an organization. Get your kids involved, too!


3.       Go through your clothes and old items and donate them to a shelter. There are so many children and families in need right now.


4.       Visit a rest home and give your time and attention to someone who no longer has a family to share the holidays with.


5.       Make your own gifts and get your kids involved in the fun too. This is what I do and it brings the spirit of Christmas alive so much more than shopping in any store, plus I have ZERO debt when it’s all said and done. Need some ideas to get you going? This blog post detailing how I made all my Christmas gifts for my family one year for only $17 should do the trick! 


6.       Bake or cook for a family or elderly couple/person that isn’t able to do it themselves.


7.       Donate a gift basket to your local animal shelter. 


8.       Donate your spare change lying around in your car console to the Salvation Army bucket.


There are so many opportunities to share in the true spirit of the holiday season that don’t involve getting caught up in the Black Friday madness.   


I know my thoughts are not of popular opinion but I’m okay with that because they are just that – my thoughts, my opinions. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder how much brighter our world would be if we backed off the materialism just a little bit…just for one day…and opted for peace instead.

What other ideas can you add to this list? 

21 November 2016

The Best Homemade Stovetop Potpourri

Aside from decorations, baking and gift-giving, nothing screams holidays and Christmas more to me than homemade stovetop Christmas potpourri. 


For me, the holidays just aren’t complete without the delicious aroma of Christmas. A homemade stovetop potpourri is a quick and inexpensive way to make your home smell like the holidays in just minutes. 


For me, the holidays just aren’t complete without the delicious aroma of Christmas. A homemade stovetop potpourri is a quick and inexpensive way to make your home smell like the holidays in just minutes.


 Here's what you'll need:
{1} whole orange
{1/2} cup cranberries
{1} Tbsp. whole cloves
{3} sticks of cinnamon
A few drops of vanilla extract
A sprinkle of grated nutmeg or cinnamon


Mix all ingredients together and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer and keep on your stovetop as long as desired. 




One batch of stove top potpourri will stay good for weeks {the mix will turn brown, but it will still smell delicious}. Just add water as needed to your pot and don't be afraid to experiment! Throw in berries, grapefruit, lemons or all spice berries. Adding a few sprigs of fresh balsam or pine is a great additive as well. 



Enjoy! 

15 November 2016

It's Okay to Celebrate Christmas NOW!

To those of you who are currently celebrating the holiday season I say: Wave your Christmas flag high and proud. Slap up those wreaths and blast that Christmas music. Bake till your little heart’s content and whip out those holiday crafts with the kiddos because really, what you’re doing shouldn’t matter to anyone else but you, and your actions are hurting no one.



I’ve noticed an interesting trend happening lately in the social media world that I’ve come to dub as holiday shaming. 


Over the past couple of weeks since Halloween, I’ve witnessed a large number of people going insane – I mean, losing their shit insane – over the mere presence and mention of anything to do with Christmas or “holiday” related items, whether it be the sighting of a hanging wreath, to radio stations playing Christmas music, to stores decorating for the holidays, but especially, friends posting their own holiday and Christmas decorations on Facebook and Instagram. And those poor folks? Those poor guys are taking a beating. 


Lately, I’ve read comments on pictures that have been posted by those who’ve decided to start celebrating Christmas and the holiday season to include:


Are you serious?! Christmas decorations already? Um, hello crazy! We’re not there yet!”

“Maybe you’re too dumb to read a calendar but it’s just November.”

“So disrespectful and rude!” (Made in reference to a picture of a wreath hanging on a friend’s front door)


Aside from my sheer disbelief that anyone could be so riled up over something so silly, what baffles and upsets me even more are the responses from those being trolled. These people are taking down their decorations, turning off their holiday music and deleting their festive photos. What’s worse, they are apologizing – yes apologizing – for simply exercising their right to celebrate what they believe and the ones who stand their ground and post pictures anyway feel the need to preface their photos or shares with comments like, “I know, I know Christmas is still a month away” or “Don’t judge” or worse, “Okay you guys, don’t get mad at me but I was so proud of myself for making our wreath that I wanted to share this picture!”


Why are we doing this to each other?


I get it. Christmas can be materialistic. The meaning gets lost in the commercialism of it all. Let’s get through Thanksgiving first.


I hear you.


I truly do.


However…


How is someone else’s joy in celebrating the holiday season (And it is a season. That’s important to note. November through December is the holiday SEASON) impeding on your life? How is someone’s choice to hang a decoration here and there affecting what you believe and how you carry on your day to day life? So your neighbor sets up and decorates their Christmas tree. 


So what? Whatever happened to the simple concept of live and let live?


Here’s a little confession for you guys: When we set up our Christmas tree last year, I kept that baby sparked up until the end of June. Why? Because it made me happy, it made my daughter happy and it brought joy to our home, plain and simple, and I make ZERO apologies for it because here’s the thing…


I never wanted that good feeling to end. Yes, in the times we live in, the holidays can be stressful and consuming but I’ve often found far more joy in the holiday season than bad. It’s the one time of year where you can actually see the good in humanity come out. People extend beyond themselves to reach out to others and often times, you will witness many a “Christmas miracle” happen. I love the joy and wonderment in our children’s eyes as they marvel at all the season has to offer but most importantly, the season centers me and makes me feel whole as a human again. It does, it really does. I’m reminded of how eternally blessed I am and how I have the opportunity to bless others’ lives as well. It is truly a miraculous time of year. 


And honestly, with everything going on in our world today, couldn’t we all use a little more joy and peace on earth? I think so.


Do you want to know what I think? I think we are a country full of people just looking for any reason at all to be offended. I think there are people everywhere who crave an opportunity to complain. I also think we are bogged down and overrun with bullies.

That’s right – bullies. Holiday shaming bullies.


I take nothing away from those who feel the celebration of Christmas shouldn’t begin until December, I really don’t. You're entitled to believe and practice what you want. What I do have a problem with are the actions these same people take in making others – who have the right to celebrate when and how they choose – feel bad about themselves and their choices and quite honestly, if you’re one of the Judgy McJudgersons reading this who think it’s fun to holiday shame, you should probably know that your actions of anger, judgment and belittlement towards another say far more about you and your character than the people who choose to celebrate. 


#justsayin


To those of you who are currently celebrating the holiday season I say: Wave your Christmas flag high and proud. Slap up those wreaths and blast that Christmas music. Bake till your little heart’s content and whip out those holiday crafts with the kiddos because really, what you’re doing shouldn’t matter to anyone else but you, and your actions are hurting no one. 


More importantly in your joy of celebrating the holiday season, don’t forget to…


Share the true meaning of the season with those you love and those who might be a little harder to love. Donate to the less fortunate and give to those in need. Volunteer your time and resources to an organization in your community. Feed a hungry family. Provide toys and clothing for Christmas morning for children who are less fortunate. Visit the elderly and the sick. 


Revel and immerse yourselves into the true meaning of the season because trust me, our country can use all the love you have to give. To quote the Vince Guaraldi Trio:




“Oh that we could always see such spirit through the year…”

14 November 2016

4 Disappointments I'm Thankful For

With Thanksgiving coming up, we’re always encouraged to take stock of all the things we’re thankful for and the positive blessings we have in our lives like family, financial stability, children and jobs.


But what about showing gratitude and thankfulness for the things in our lives that may be challenges, disappointments and let downs? How do we handle those?


Throughout my life, I’ve often found that some of my biggest blessings have come about because of mistakes, disappointments or life just sucking in general. It’s true. If you stop and really give some thought to a few of your biggest flounders and let downs, you can probably find the silver lining and blessing in each of them. 


Allow me to start. 


With Thanksgiving coming up, we’re always encouraged to take stock of all the things we’re thankful for and the positive blessings we have in our lives like family, financial stability, children and jobs. But what about showing gratitude and thankfulness for the things in our lives that may be challenges, disappointments and let downs? How do we handle those?



My Divorce. 
No one ever goes into their marriage with the expectation that it will end but in 2009, mine did and looking back, it was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. Once I was able to leave the dead weight behind, my life blossomed and more so, my dreams, hopes and goals began to take shape. If I hadn’t left my ex-husband, I would have never met Michael, had our beautiful daughter, have my writing take off, and be as successful as I am today. I was so mired down in the crap that was my marriage that a large part of my soul, and everything along with it, died. To break free from it was like a rebirth.


Lost Friendships. 
Friendships in a very small way are like marriages – it takes a lot of time and effort to make them work. Unfortunately, not all friends feel the same way and in fact, some friendships become toxic. Whether it’s because you no longer see eye to eye on a specific issue, have grown apart, have a falling out or simply just wander away from one another, friendships that end can be hard on us. 


Or are they?


When I think back to what I thought were my best friendships, and if I’m being honest, I often remember more of the issues and not enough of the good things. I also remember how it felt to have the weight of such a bad friendship lifted from my shoulders and am thankful because if I hadn’t lost those friends who weren’t truly good for me, I may have missed out on the friends that have come into my life since that have been true and lasting friendships. 


Lost Job Opportunities. 
We’ve all been there at one point or time in our career: you interview for the “perfect job.” Everything seems to be going great in the interviewing process and then BAM. You don’t get the job. 


I’ve had this happen to me a couple of times.


When disappointments like this happen, it’s easy to fall into the “Woe is me” trap and carry feelings of defeat, frustration and anger. I’ve done this myself but honestly, those missed job opportunities have all been blessings in disguise. After losing one particular job offer, I found out a few months later that the company I interviewed with was going through horrible financial distress and was laying-off over half of their workforce – the job I interviewed for included. By the time I found out this information, I was already happily employed elsewhere but I still shudder to think what would have happened if I had gotten that job. Thank goodness for unanswered prayers! 


Fights with my Spouse.
You’re probably scratching your forehead on this one, right? I mean, who really feels blessed after fighting with their spouse?


Hear me out.


I don’t know about you and your spouse/partner/significant other, but when Michael and I argue, it’s usually because of some misunderstanding or point of view the other person doesn’t understand. Once we’re able to get past our own emotions and actually put forth the effort of truly listening to each other, we learn far more about one another and what each of us needs in order to thrive in our relationship. I’m thankful for those weak moments that make us stronger and a more united couple. The making up from fighting isn’t a bad thing either. 



What are some unanswered prayers or disappointments you have to be thankful for?